For centuries, the charitable object of “the advancement of religion” has been regarded as valuable and much needed in a civilized world. That is why governments have provided religious institutions with tax-exempt status in order to encourage the spread of religion and its many services provided to the community since this benefits all of society.
However, in the past fifty years, religion has been undermined and denigrated because it has proven to be an obstacle to progressive or left-wing policies. Moral issues, such as abortion, same-sex marriage, transgenderism and euthanasia, for example, have all been met with opposition from religious faiths, whether Christian, Muslim, Sikh or Orthodox Jews. As a result, to implement “progressive” policies, the policy-makers downgrade the importance of religious faith in society. They dismiss it as outdated and unnecessary, and demand either that it be eliminated entirely, or that it, at least, modify its beliefs to adapt them to modern society. The denigration of religion is currently widespread at the United Nations (UN), in the mainstream media, the judiciary and by left-wing governments.
Possible Liberal Strategy
It seems that a possible explanation for the refusal of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to back down on the discriminatory Summer Jobs Program may be due to the fact that this policy may be a deliberate attempt to downgrade the influence of religious faith in Canada. As such, it may be an integral part of a long range policy by the Liberal government to ultimately remove the tax exempt status of churches and its organizations. If such is the case, it is believed it will likely take place in three stages.
The policy to require faith-based groups to sign an attestation that they support abortion and transgenderism in order to receive a grant under the Canada Summer Jobs Program may be designed as a dry-run to determine whether the government can erode religious influence without being politically damaged for doing so.
A change may be initiated in the eligibility under the Income Tax Act for faith based organizations so as to reduce the number of tax-exempt faith-based groups.
There are currently 860,191 registered charities, 330,144 of which are religious based, or 38.4%. The Liberal government sees the tax-exempt status for these faith-based groups as a loss of millions of dollars in tax money, which it wants for its own use. By narrowing the eligibility of groups entitled to receive tax-exempt status, the Liberal government will gain a financial windfall.
The Income Tax Act may be amended to remove the tax-exempt status directly from churches, not just their organizations.
Background to This Strategy
In December 2017, the Liberal government introduced a policy that all groups seeking funding under the Canada Summer Jobs Program must sign an attestation that the groups support abortion and transgenderism. This was obviously unacceptable to faith-based groups whose works provide our communities with soup kitchens, children’s camps, English Language lessons for immigrants, day care, etc. As a result of this policy, 1,561 charities were rejected for a grant in 2018 when they applied under the Summer Jobs Program. They were rejected because they refused to check the attestation box since this would compel them to violate their consciences. In 2017, only 126 applications were rejected under this program.
The opposition Conservative Party put forward a motion, voted on, on March 19, 2018, to amend this objectionable policy. The Conservative motion was as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, organizations that engage in non-political non-activist work, such as feeding the homeless, helping refugees, and giving kids an opportunity to go to camp, should be able to access Canada Summer Jobs funding regardless of their private convictions and regardless of whether or not they choose to sign the application attestation.
The vote was 207 against the motion and 93 in support of the motion.
Although the wording of the motion was less than ideal, as it eliminated pro-life groups, the motion nonetheless has given the Liberals the message that it is not going to be that easy for them to pursue removal of tax-exempt status without a fight.
Summary of Vote
Link to all MP votes: https://openparliament.ca/votes/42-1/459/
Liberal MP John McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood, ON) did not vote on the motion, but was in the House of Commons that day. MP Scott Simms (Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL) was the only Liberal member who voted for the motion. MP David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre, ON) was the only NDP member who voted for the motion. Green Party Member, Elizabeth May, voted for the motion. Three Bloc MPs voted in favour of the motion. No Conservative member voted against the motion.
Some pollsters claim that the controversy for the Summer Job Program, may not make a difference to the Liberals’ chances in the October, 2019 federal election. However, according to the Hill Times (February 19th, 2018), some Liberal back benchers do not share this view, and are concerned that the Summer Jobs Program will affect their chances of re-election. They believe that the Liberal red-wave that swept across the country in 2015, which won the Liberals a majority government with 184 seats, is not going to happen in the 2019 election.
This uncertainty about the effect of the Summer Jobs Program, however, has not apparently stopped the Liberal government from proceeding to Stage Two in its strategy.
On January 30th, 2018, The Senate Special Committee on the Charitable Sector was established to review the charitable status of faith-based groups under the Income Tax Act.
The motion in the Senate to establish this Committee, was made by Liberal Senator Terry M. Mercer who will also chair the Committee. Senator Mercer was the former Director of Fundraising for the Liberal Party of Canada.
The Committee consists of four Liberal and Independent Senators, and three Conservative Senators.
Two of the issues to be studied by the Committee are of particular concern:
- How do we modernize the [charitable] sector?
- Do Canadians trust charities and are charities acting ethically?
This Committee is required to submit its final report on the issue by the end of December, 2018. This date will be just ten months before the next federal election, which is to be held in October, 2019. As a result of the relative proximity to the federal election with the report’s release, the Liberal dominated Committee will not likely recommend the direct removal of the tax-exempt status from churches at that time because of the possibility this might create a backlash at a politically sensitive time. Therefore, it is likely that the Committee will recommend, instead, a policy to reduce the number of faith-based groups granted tax-exempt status by narrowing the criteria for the eligibility of such groups.
If the Liberal government attains a majority government after the next federal election, to be held in 2019, it will then be in a position to promptly remove the tax-exempt status directly from the churches. It would do this based on the assumption that religious faiths will have been pushed behind the closed doors of churches, temples, synagogues and mosques and will have, as a result, a diminished role in public debate. The Liberals may believe that any backlash to this policy will have been forgotten by the time the next federal election will take place in 2023. That is, the Liberals expect that the relevance of religion in the public square will have been largely eliminated by then.
If the Trudeau government should eventually remove the tax-exempt status of churches and their organizations, it will gain billions of dollars in taxes. This would be the powerful incentive for Trudeau’s debt-ridden government to undertake such an unacceptable strategy.
Consequently, this long-term Liberal strategy may be the reason Trudeau has resolutely refused to back down from the Canada Summer Jobs Program. It is too integral and valuable a part of his strategy to change the taxation exemptions of religious institutions in Canada.
The Trudeau government during the course of its mandate has made some bizarre decisions. It is important, therefore, to be alert to the possibility that it may decide to remove the tax-exempt status of the churches.
Undoubtedly, the Trudeau government will vigorously deny it has any intention of doing so. We will see.